Physicists in the hunt for the elusive Higgs boson, or God particle, have set themselves an 18-month time frame to unlock the mystery of the all-important missing link in the predominant particle physics theory called the "standard model."
Decade-long experiments of particle-smashing at speeds that approximate that of light have brought them tantalizingly close to confirming the existence of the Higgs boson, the particle that is supposed to be giving mass to other particles.
Physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) have said they could trace some unusual results that possibly hinted at the existence of the missing God particle, when streams of protons were fired through the LHC particle accelerator.
But it's too early to confirm the existence of the particle, and scientists say they can't rule out the possibility that the fluctuations were a misreading of the data or some passing phenomena.
"I hope the big discoveries will come next year," said Rolf Heuer, director-general of the CERN research centre, at a physicists' conference in Grenoble, France. "I would say we can settle the question, the Shakespearean question — ‘to be or not to be’ — by the end of next year."
For the European and U.S. scientists working to trace and define the Higgs boson, a lot is at stake. Higgs boson is the lynchpin of the modern particle physics theory called the standard model. The discovery of Higgs boson will, first and foremost, help scientists answer long-held questions like what is the source of mass and why some particles have mass and others don't have.
It will also help them throw light on the "supersymmetric particles" and thereby throw light on the investigation into the make-up of dark matter.
A lot of mysteries shrouding the beginning of the universe are locked in the Higgs boson. If it isn't found, scientists will have to change the standard model postulation through which they explained how sub-atomic particles interacted with each other. If the Higgs boson is ruled out, another explanation for how particles get their mass will be needed.
Higgs boson, the sub-atomic particle fundamental to the understanding the nature of matter, was first hypothesized in 1964 by Edinburgh University physicist Peter Higgs.
The standard model theory built the framework in modern times for the understanding of the way the universe, with the help of the Higgs boson hypothesis. It offered the notional structure of the nature of matter and how the universe came into being.
The scientists working at the LHC hope to reverse-engineer the make-up of the cosmic dish which was cooked up 13.7 billion years ago, by tracing out the Higgs boson.
They're in search of cryptic clues that hide the instructions for the cosmic recipe, and the Higgs boson is one potent missing link that could throw light into how life as we know it today emerged out of the all-encompassing stardust resulting from the Big Bang theory billions of years ago.
"Take a massive explosion to create plenty of stardust and a raging heat. Simmer for an eternity in a background of cosmic microwaves. Let the ingredients congeal and leave to cool and serve cold with cultures of tiny organisms 13.7 billion years later," this is how CERN cuts out its unenviable but exciting task.
According to CERN scientists, particles had no mass just after The Big Bang. An invisible force field, called the "Higgs field," arose as the universe cooled and the temperature fell below a critical value. This force field contained the Higgs boson, which was pervasive in the universe. Any particles that interacted with it were given a mass via the Higgs boson. The more they interacted, the heavier they became, whereas particles that never interacted were left with no mass at all.
Scientists also postulate that the discovery of Higgs boson could also lead to new findings in particle physics, including fundamental physical symmetry, or "supersymmetry."
The ATLAS and CMS detectors at the LHC are looking for supersymmetric particles to test a likely hypothesis for the make-up of dark matter, which makes up 96 percent of the universe, according to CERN.
Investigating the nature of dark matter and dark energy is one of the biggest challenges today in the fields of particle physics and cosmology, it says.